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Clive Murphy’s Spitalfields

January 22, 2017
by the gentle author

Pauline, Animal Lover, 77 Brick Lane, 16 July 1988

When it comes to photography, Clive Murphy – the novelist, oral historian and writer of ribald rhymes – modestly describes himself as a snapper. Yet although he uses the term to indicate that his taking pictures is merely a casual preoccupation, I prefer to interpret Clive’s appellation as meaning “a snapper up of unconsidered trifles” – one who cherishes what others disregard.

“I carried it around in my shoulder bag and if something interested me, I would pull out my camera and snap it,” Clive informed me plainly, “I am a snapper because I work instinctively and I rely entirely upon my eye for the picture.”

In thousands of snapshots, every one labelled on the reverse in his spidery handwriting and organised into many shelves of numbered volumes, Clive has been chronicling the changing life of Spitalfields, of those around him and of those he knew, since he came to live above the Aladin Restaurant on Brick Lane in 1973. These pictures are not those of a documentary photographer on assignment but the intimate snaps of a member of the community, and it is this personal quality which makes them so compelling and immediate, drawing the viewer into Clive’s particular vivid universe in Spitalfields.

We pulled out a few albums and leafed through the pages together, selecting a few snaps to show you, and Clive told me some of the stories that go with them.

Winos, Brick Lane, May 1988

Komor Uddin, Taj Stores, 7 December 1990

Columbia Rd Market, 13 November 1988

Jasinghe Ranamukadewasa Fernando (known as Vijay Singh), Holy Man with acolyte, Brick Lane, March 1988 – “Many people in Brick Lane thought he was the new Messiah and the press came down in droves. He was regarded as a very holy man, he held court in the Nazrul Restaurant and people took his potions and remedies. When he died, I joined the crowd to see his body at the Co-op Funeral Parlour in Chrisp St.”

Clive Murphy’s cat Pushkin, 132 Brick Lane, July 1988 – “Pushkin followed me down Brick Lane from Fournier St one night and, when I opened my hall door, he came in with me. So he adopted me, when he was only a kitten and could hardly jump up a step. And I had him for twenty years.”

Neighbour’s doves hoping to be fed, 16 March 1991 – “The Nazrul Restaurant used to keep doves and, when they disappeared, Pushkin was blamed but I assure you he had nothing to do with it.”

Kyriacos Kleovoulou, Barber, Puma Court, 23 February 1990 – “I’ve had a few haircuts there in the past.”

Waiter, Nazrul Restaurant, Brick Lane, 29 May 1988

Harry Fishman, 97 Brick Lane, 19 September 1987 – “He was a godsend to everybody because he cashed any cheque on the spot. I think he was used to being robbed, so he wanted to get rid of the cash. Harry Fishman was the most-loved man on Brick Lane in the seventies, his shop was always full of people wanting to be around him, and I often delivered papers to The Golden Heart for him.”

Harry Fishman’s shop, corner of Quaker St, 19 September 1987

Window Cleaning, Woodseer St, March 1988 – “This man used to run an orchestra and, at all dances and Bengali events, they would play.”

Sunday use of Weinbergs (sold), November 1987 – “It was a printers and when it closed it became a fruit stall. Mr Weinberg was a very jolly fat man, slightly balding, who ordered his staff about. He would say things like, ‘Left, right, left, right, do it properly!’ I dined at his house and I didn’t like the cover of my first novel, so I asked him to redesign it for me. He had a nephew who had never been with a woman and he asked me to find him an escort agency. We all dined in a restaurant behind the Astoria Theatre in the Charing Cross Rd, and then I let them use my front room. But after an hour she came out and said, ‘It’s no use, I give up!’ but we still had to pay, and his nephew never became a man.”

Christ Church Night Tea Stall, October 1987 – “I always went out as the last thing I did before I went to bed, to have a snack.”

Clive’s landlord, Toimus Ali, at The Aladin Restaurant, 6 March 1991 – “He was very taciturn.”

Fournier St, 7 February 1991 – “I used to come here and have lunch with all the taxi-drivers who loved it so much.”

Retired street cleaner, Brick Lane, March 1988

Tramp, Brick Lane, 29 May 1988

Pushkin unwell, Jan 4 1991 – “I was told it would be quite alright to feed my cat on frozen whitebait, but I didn’t thaw it properly and it killed my Pushkin.”

Harry Fishman’s shop after closure, 97 Brick Lane, 27 September 1987

Clive at his desk, 132 Brick Lane, 31 December 1989

Photographs courtesy of the Clive Murphy Archive at the Bishopsgate Institute

You may like to read my other stories about Clive Murphy

Clive Murphy, Writer

A Walk With Clive Murphy

At Clive Murphy’s Flat

Clive Murphy, Phillumenist

Clive Murphy’s oral histories are available from Labour and Wait

9 Responses leave one →
  1. January 22, 2017

    Great shot of the Market Cafe in the snow

  2. January 22, 2017

    I have read the this and the older links about Clive from the days before I discovered Spitalfields Life or indeed became a regular acolyte. What a strong individual Clive is. So many of us keep treading the path of the almost conventional, while others have the courage to walk their own individual way. A fascinating man.

  3. January 22, 2017

    Absolutely brilliant selection of photographs and anecdotes – so evocative of that period, the colour, the characters but especially the magic that is Clive Murphy.

  4. January 22, 2017

    I always love snapshots like these, they show real life and not posed situations.

  5. January 22, 2017

    Oh I am lost for words – it is so sad to see my Uncle Harry (Fishman) in 1987.
    What conditions, and to see his chilblained hands and nose. I know my Dad tried to help him.
    He told us how he was always being robbed, but he was a lovely kind man. He was the only
    member of the family who never left Brick Lane. It was truly another world back then.
    I don’t think I can forward this to the family – it is too sad.
    A happier photo of Uncle Harry appeared a few years ago in Spitalfields Life.

  6. Shawdian permalink
    January 22, 2017

    Common sense should have prevailed the frozen food feeder. Poor Pushkin.

  7. pauline taylor permalink
    January 22, 2017

    Although I know nothing about Spitalfields at this time these look good to me, and I particularly relate to the one of the winos and the dog as it reminds me of one of our customers whom I suspect is a reformed wino. He asked , very politely, on his first visit, if it would be all right if he brought his dog, Ben, into the shop, I agreed, since when he and Ben have become regular visitors, and he has become a customer. Later on I congratulated him on rescuing Ben, to which he replied, “I didn’t rescue him, he rescued me.”

  8. Catherine permalink
    January 22, 2017

    These photos show, in addition to tough conditions back then for so many folks, a sense of community that’s too often lost when neighborhoods gentrify. Thank you GA for your efforts to sustain old connections and build new ones amongst the people around you, and for sharing them with us (even as far away as San Francisco).

  9. January 24, 2017

    The pictures and the stories of people’s lives are worth solid gold. It brings an attachment a feeling of belonging. Is it not amazing that simple things and tasks complete our daily living. It is like the magic of seeing for the first time. Very visually enriching and to read that this is someone’s relative who knows the kinder days and life of these treasured people.

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